One of the results of modern medicine is that many of us think a "normal" illness is one that can be cured. We are profoundly unsettled by illnesses which cannot be fixed, and we do not associate willingly with people who have such illnesses, preferring that they keep decently to themselves in hospitals and nursing homes. We certainly don't marry people with intractable illnesses. We may say "in sickness and in health, until death do us part" when we marry, but we make sure to marry someone who is healthy now and whom we imagine will be so forever. These were my own assumptions when the man I was dating in graduate school told me he was HIV positive. "How can I marry this man?" I thought. "He's going to die." "You can't marry this man; he's going to die," my friends told me. Illness and death are abnormal experiences. We avoid them at all costs, even if that means excluding ill or dying people from our lives. But marry him I did, and from the beginning our marriage was overshadowed by this illness and the likelihood of his early death. This set us apart from our friends, who seemed to enjoy perfect health, and it challenged our own ideas and expectations of our lives. We also found that the Christian faith unmasked and illuminated some of our assumptions about life and death in ways that were surprising and transforming. We learned this mostly through worship and prayer and pastoral care; but I've since discovered that we were not the first Christians ever to learn these lessons.nAmong the Christian teachers who discuss the subjects of health and illness directly are Basil the Great (c. 330-79), Martin Luther (1483-1546), and Jeremy Taylor (1613-67). Each of these thinkers reflects on how God's grace and providential care ...1
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